Bad Manners

Carrollton, Missouri, in the long ago was a place where it was common to see 10-year-old boys lazing down the street carrying .22 rifles as casually as they would a stick, a gallon of milk or even a squirming bag of frogs, 1  headed toward the woods to plink tin cans or, you know, blow up some frogs. Not on purpose, mind – just accidental-like.

Everyone’s father carried a weapon in the car and every farmer racked at least one long gun in their pickups. Those same vehicles, along with the weapons, would show up at the Carol Drive-in Friday and Saturday nights.

To my memory not a single instance of anyone even pointing a gun at someone ever occurred; gun safety was drilled into us as deeply as good manners. Pointing a weapon at someone was considered unforgivably rude. It just wasn’t done. Though there was a rumor that one cool summer night one of the Clyde boys, I think it was Jimmy, got so pissed  at Sally Nordhus — her bursting-at-the-seams mohair sweater aside — he threatened to shoot her if she wouldn’t for just one gawddamned minute quit popping her gawddamned gum. 2

And no one belonged to the NRA – it was considered unseemly.

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So last month there was the Florida CineBistro shooting.

An ex-cop shot a former Navy petty officer immediately after the swabbie threw a bag of popcorn in the cop’s face.  There was the usual jawing and posturing prior to the shooting, of course: who twitted this, who texted that.

The movie (never shown) was about a failed SEAL mission (that should have never have been executed) wherein 20 lives are thrown away under the aegis of American exceptionalism. No gum chewing Sally Nordhus avatar was involved, just the swabbie’s wife, who shot her hand over her husband’s chest in an effort to shield him from a bit of lead traveling at 1100 FPS. Instead her blood drained into the new hole in her husband’s heart.

These days everyone belongs to the NRA; it wouldn’t surprise me if it turns out both the shooter and the dead guy belonged as well.

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There are rules against texting in movie theaters, just as there are rules against throwing popcorn in someone’s face, or…wait, maybe there aren’t rules against tossing popcorn at someone. Maybe those are just social norms. You know, behavior expected from all civilized people: respect, patience, courtesy, a willingness to help others, simple politeness.

You get the sense that neither man tried very hard at any of that:  respect, patience, courtesy and simple politeness got tossed long before the popcorn. Instead both men were in Rambo, Dirty Harry, 300 mode – this shall not stand!

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We took the Astas to see Frozen over the weekend (and, yes, all three ladies were wiping tears when Anna became frozen) where we were provided with our own (putative) opportunity to get shot; seated on our immediate right was the ubiquitous American teen male – complete with acne, attitude and smart phone. Said device he proceeded to thumb to death throughout all of the AMC branding and every single preview. Once the film began he lit up the phone’s screen and started texting again. So I gave him a glance.

You know, the glance that says, “Hey, I’ve got kids here so I don’t want a hassle, but you need to stop that behavior and now, okay? Thanks.”

Which earned me the patented eye-roll, sneer and snort combination.

So I upped my game: I politely said, “Excuse me, sir – but your phone’s light and constant beeping is distracting me from enjoying the film. Would you mind refraining from using the device until afterward? Or going out to the lobby if it’s important?” But I sold the words with a stare that said “You fuckin punk I will rip that fuckin piece of shit from your hands and stuff it so far up your ass  you’ll have to thumb your belly button to send texts if you don’t do as I ask…NOW!”

Nora nearly has the vapors whenever I stand up for myself in public these days; I’ll get shot, she says. But one of the salient characteristics of male teens is insecurity 3; the kid may well have wanted to call my bluff but couldn’t hold eye contact. He put away his device for the rest of the movie.

I’m a little more sanguine than Nora about calling out rude behavior in public; we don’t patronize places where we feel we might be in danger. Of course, the dead swabbie probably felt safe bullying an old man in a popular movie theater, too.

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What has changed in two generations? Why do children and even adults feel free to treat public spaces as their own living rooms, to the point of ignoring the fact of other people? Why do two mature, seasoned men act absent the common sense of 10-year-olds? In fact, what happened to the very idea of manners? 4

And since when did it become acceptable to stand around and egg on bad manners and rude behavior into violence and murder?

I’m looking at you, fucking NRA.
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Show 4 footnotes

  1. That was a particularly fine summer day.
  2. Which, given the movie they were watching, was perfectly understandable: Jimmy was a huge Paul Newman fan and was more than half smitten with Julie Andrews. Sally had the misfortune of popping her gum at the exact moment Peter Lorre turned out (again) to be a snake.
  3. The other being a tendency to pop a boner at the slightest breeze.
  4. This is not, obviously, the first time I’ve touched on this subject. Nor, I fear, will it be the last. Because I simply don’t understand it: raise your children to respect themselves and others. How freaking hard is that to do?

4 Replies to “Bad Manners”

  1. Probably unfair to blame the NRA, don’t you think. In fact, I suspect that if you looked at all of the gun deaths in the country, you’d find the majority are in urban areas and the shooters were NOT NRA members…. (no, I don’t have stats. Just conjecture on my part and I’m open to seeing stats that show otherwise.)

    No, I don’t think you can blame the NRA. It’s a symptom of the culture as a whole becoming more casual. Men used to wear suits and hats to go the local pub. Now schmucks like me shamelessly walk around in public wearing cargo shorts. And do you think you would have ever seen Ella Fitzgerald twerking on stage with Robin Thicke?

    “It starts when you begin to overlook good manners. Any time you quit hearing Sir and Mam the end is pretty much in sight…”

    1. Oh, I didn’t say I blame them for our ongoing devolution – that’s all on us.

      No, what I mentioned was that perhaps they ought not behave as if it were their innate right to throw gas on an already raging inferno.

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